Griffith warns of Murray Valley encephalitis

People living in flood-affected regions are being urged to be vigilant about the
threat of the mosquito-borne disease Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) following the recent death of a Canadian tourist in the Northern Territory.

The 19-year-old fell ill with the disease after arriving home from a holiday in the Top End and Central Australia at the beginning of May.

While the disease is rare, and in most cases individuals only show mild symptoms such as fever or nausea, severe cases can lead to brain

inflammation (encephalitis) and eventual death if not treated, said Professor Suresh Mahalingam, a virologist from the Institute for Glycomics, Griffith University.

“Most people who have been infected with MVE develop mild disease and can develop some immunity that can protect them from a subsequent infection,” he said.

“Those who are infected for the first time (and have no immunity) can develop mild disease but occasionally some individuals may be severely

affected with encephalitis.”

Professor Mahalingam said there are a number of factors that contribute to differential disease outcome in individuals such as age, status of the host immune response and the circulation of more virulent strains of the virus.

“We have seen an increase in mosquito breeding due to the recent heavy rainfall and flood in these regions which is likely to have contributed to an increase in mosquitoes harbouring viruses such as MVE and possibly some

virulent strains.”

Professor Mahalingam said that while there is no specific treatment for MVE,the best way to avoid the virus, or any other viruses transmitted by mosquitoes, is to avoid being bitten by one.

“People should cover up as much as possible, apply repellent on skin when outdoors and use mosquito netting when they go to sleep.

“Those with MVE encephalitis are difficult to treat as there are no specific antiviral drugs, but the use of anti-inflammatory drugs can ease the swelling.”

Specific anti-inflammatory drugs developed in conjunction with Professor Mahalingam’s research team, which can reduce the infiltration of cells into the brain without affecting host antiviral proteins, are expected to be in the market within the next two years.

The drug is being developed by Angelini Pharmaceuticals, however the team

at the Institute for Glycomics will be the first to show its application in

treating viral induced inflammation.